July 4th (or Independence Day) is a federal holiday commemorating the independence secured from Great Britain on July 4th 1776, which is celebrated annually with fireworks, parades, family events and such like. But for one person the festival of goodwill was clearly of no concern, as he raised his 9mm Luger to the open passenger side window of Darlene Ferrin's brown Corvair - and without uttering a word - unleashed a volley of gunshots into both victims. The perpetrator then retreated back to his vehicle, only to realize that at least one of his victims may still be alive, so returned and fired off a further four rounds at the defenseless young couple. In just under forty minutes the relatively quiet neighboring towns of Vallejo and Benicia were about to receive a rude awakening, as the Zodiac Killer made contact for the first time in a payphone call that police dispatcher Nancy Slover was never to forget.
George Bryant resided in a caretakers house near the Blue Rock Springs parking lot, from where he heard the events unfold that night from approximately 800 feet away, describing the following sequence of noises. He stated that he heard "one gunshot", then a moment later "another gunshot", then after a further gap the sound of "rapid gunfire". This sequence of events markedly differed with the chain of events described by Michael Mageau, He recalled how "a white man drove up in a car, got out and walked up to their car, shined a flashlight inside and started shooting". The man then left for a brief time, before returning and firing off four more rounds. It is without doubt that Michael Mageau was under unfathomable stress that night and may have been understandably confused about the exact sequence of events that transpired, whereas, from the relative calm of his occupancy 800 feet away, George Bryant was able to give a much more reasoned and accurate account of events. He was also able to discern the difference between firecrackers being let off that night and the sound of gunfire, which he assuredly claimed were much louder. But could he?
The Zodiac Killer claimed to use a pencil flashlight to aid his aim during the Lake Herman Road double murder of David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen on December 20th 1968, so appeared adept at modifying his weapon to suit his purpose. He also gave us a detailed description of his bomb making plans in the Bus Bomb letter on November 9th 1969 and April 20th 1970 communication, so it is actually no great leap of faith to believe that he was able to create a fully functioning homemade suppressor attachment for his gun also - or possibly own the real thing.
Lake Herman Road traveled through undulating hills and trees as it meandered from Benicia to Vallejo in near total darkness. On the night in question it was also extremely cold, just 22 degrees Fahrenheit with the ground frozen under foot.
The sound of gunfire can travel for several miles, depending on the type of weapon, air temperature, humidity, the surrounding terrain, etc. The sound of a bullet being ejected will travel further in cold air, which has a greater density than warm air, however, Lake Herman Road was (as Zodiac stated), surrounded by high hills and trees which would help to contain any localized noise. Regardless of this, we have to consider it was about 11:15 pm at night, with local residences scattered along Lake Herman Road. Why would the Zodiac Killer attract unwanted attention to himself when his exit strategies are limited? There is one main exit road to the west and limited choices to the east. To travel eastbound and exit Lake Herman Road would take approximately 2-3 minutes, whereas westbound would take marginally longer, at around 4 minutes. Any respondents to the sound of the gunfire could conceivably have passed him as he fled the scene of crime. An unnecessary risk and one he needed never take.
James Owen, who passed by the scene just before the murders, mentioned no gunshots in his first statement to police on December 21st 1968, however, three days later he stated "that he thought he heard a shot" approximately a quarter of a mile after he passed the turnout. On a quiet country road at approximately 11:15 pm at night, are we to believe the killer only waited 30 seconds after James Owen had passed before firing off numerous rounds from a .22 caliber weapon? But Owen supposedly only heard one. After James Owen passed the turnout, are we to conclude the Zodiac Killer only shot David Faraday (the shot James Owen heard), then waited a certain length of time until James Owen was out of earshot, then murdered Betty Lou Jensen? The sequence of events makes little sense from either perspective - and in all probability James Owen heard nothing.
The Zodiac Killer would claim the murder of Paul Stine just two days later in a letter mailed to the San Francisco Chronicle, stating "I am the murderer of the taxi driver over by Washington St + Maple St last night". The three teenage eyewitnesses (or anybody else) failed to hear any gunshots at the intersection of Washington & Cherry, as was the case at Washington & Maple. At 9:55 pm at night, why was this?
This crime had all the hallmarks of pre-planning, with the Zodiac Killer even removing a section of Paul Stine's shirt, which he mailed two days later along with the letter. But despite being a far more populated area, in which he secured a trophy from the crime scene, it was an unnecessary risk he was prepared to take. Again, imagine you were the perpetrator. Would you fire a loaded, unsilenced weapon within feet of a house, then proceed to start rummaging through the victims pockets, wipe down the inside of the cab, exit the vehicle and proceed to the exterior doors and start wiping them down, before moving off casually - or get the hell out of there? If the Zodiac Killer had used a silencer and believed no witnesses had observed him and called the police, then quite possibly he may have showed less urgency. Which is exactly what the Zodiac Killer did. Finally, we will move to the brutal stabbings at Lake Berryessa, resulting in the murder of Cecelia Shepard on September 27th 1969.
Bryan Hartnell observed the Zodiac Killer's gun up close and there was no suggestion of a silencer. But this does not necessarily mean he was not carrying one. However, on this occasion his knife would seve as the perfect silencer. The Zodiac Killer first presented his gun to the young couple - and although the ordeal was undoubtedly terrifying - there may have been little reason to suspect anything other than robbery as a motive at this point. The time was approximately 6:15 pm in the evening and it was still light. There were other people in the vicinity (although not many), and the thought that the assailant would start firing away with restricted exit points seemed unlikely. Unbeknownst to the couple, the assailant possessed a silent weapon, which had they seen from the outset, greater danger may have been inferred. The knife, from the perspective of the Zodiac Killer, was the perfect choice.
The Zodiac Killer may not have used a silencer in any of the crimes, but there is one question you have to ask yourself. If you were the Zodiac Killer, hell bent on creating a legacy of evil and considering the locations he chose, would you have used a silencer?